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Thursday, 18 September 2014

“Real Magick” in RPGs: Types of Magicians and “Magical Orders”

I’m going to break from talking about actual practices of magick to take a step back into addressing types of people and groups who do magick, to add more information on that subject in the specific context of “serious” practitioners of the western magical tradition. 

These days, there are probably three broad categories of western occultist you could be likely to meet in a “realistic” modern-occult setting.
First, the seriously old-school (or to use a term from modern magick, “Old Aeon”).  These are the guys who basically don’t like anything that came along in the world of occultism after about 1903.  They identify with very traditional western magick, and more specifically with the Victorian interpretations thereof.  Most of them have an affinity with the work of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (more about the Golden Dawn found later in this entry), and basically have a serious hate-on for Aleister Crowley.   Some of these guys “graduated” into occultism from the new-age (particularly quasi-theosophical beliefs), though some got into it from more specific segments of occultism like astrology or kabbalah. They are, these days, a relative minority among occultists. 

When encountered, they will be very vocal about “tradition”, like to use a lot of props in their ritual, don’t cut any corners, and will be quite focused on old-school style hermetic work.  Lots of Hebrew, and maybe the occasional sanskrit that slips in there, but they’re generally not into “mingling” eastern techniques with their western magick.  I would say that a lot of these guys are more “theory” than practice, but you could really say that about basically ALL of the types I’m describing; its just that these guy’s “theory” will quote a lot from medieval grimoires, pseudo-masonry or Rosicrucian sources, Eliphas Levi, etc. and will carry a general disdain for any novelty.  They also generally tend to be prudes, both socially, morally, and magically squeamish.

Second, the new school: Thelema.  “Thelema” is a greek word meaning “will”, and is the term referring to the general religious philosophy and school of magick that was created by and will forever be influenced by Aleister Crowley, who was basically about as much of a game-changer in the world of the occult as Einstein was in the world of Physics, Picasso in the world of art, or Elvis in the world of popular music.  Note that not all magicians in this category would describe themselves as “Thelemites”, that is, a lot of them might not actually be DIRECTLY influenced by Crowley anymore; but if they are practicing your standard “mainstream” (inasmuch as you can call it that) hermetic magick these days, the authors they’re reading and the type of magick they’re doing is based on Crowley anyways. 

In many ways, the “new school” guys are not so different from the “old school”, they don’t ultimately reject any of the symbols or basic practices of the 19th century magicians, but they have both modernized it, personalized it, and you could say “updated” it.  These guys don’t stick to traditional ritual, but rather look at the building blocks of those rituals and make new iterations of it.  The Kabbalah for them is still the Kabbalah, but rather than referring to just the traditional lexicon of kabbalistic concepts they want to create their own dictionary of words and images that are meaningful to them.  At least, the really serious guys in this category will do that; the rest will just do the rituals that Crowley wrote, the way he wrote them, becoming in a sense the new conservatives. 

Three big differences between the old school and the new are that the new school puts a big influence on the philosophy of self-transformation (defining magick as “the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity to the Will”, for that matter, you’ll hear “true will” bandied about quite a lot), individualism and respect for but not blind hierarchical obedience to spiritual authority; that they put a much bigger emphasis on personal revelation and personal “astral visions” (or whatever you want to call it), basically suggesting that a big part of the magical work is to experience altered perceptions and other dimensions of your being, and take very seriously the insights that these provide (for many of the new school, this includes incorporating both sex and drugs into their magical practice, something that Crowley was really big on and that the old school tends to seriously dislike); and that they will tend to be much more open to synthesis with all kinds of non-western influences.  “New School” magicians and old-school magicians both tend to accept that there is a “Perennial philosophy”, that all esoteric practices of every culture are basically different ways of describing the same magical “formula” for self-transformation, but the “new school” people have taken this to mean that there is a benefit to incorporating sources that weren’t traditionally part of western-magick into their practices; so you have things like the “Voudoun-Gnostic Workbook” or the “Voodoo Tarot”, the borrowing of rituals from tribal shamanic practices, significant interest in sufism, and most especially in the esoteric parts of the big three eastern religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism.  The parts they like to borrow from these religions tend to be the radical esoteric practices, things like Tantrism or Taoist Alchemy. 

On the other hand, the New School guys are generally less inclined to include Christian symbolism than the old school. Also, the new-school guys are the most likely to interact with the general Wiccan and Pagan subcultures and self-identify as “pagans” (though sometimes with the caveat that they aren’t like “normal” neo-pagans, or that they’re more serious about it, or whatever).

Like I said above, just as many of the “old school” guys will be more “theory” than “practice”, so will most of the new-school guys; only their “theory” will be a lot more talking about received Holy Books, someone else’s (usually Crowley’s) astral visions of the kabbalistic tree of life or the Enochian Aethyrs, talking about the True Will, or about “sex magick”. 

New school guys generally tend to think that “old school” guys are reactionary farts who “have the ritual but don’t understand it”, and that the “Really New school” guys are “posers” who are “too lazy” to study serious magick and don’t know what they’re doing.

Thirdly, the REALLY New School, or “Chaos magicians”.  Sometime around the early 1980s, a new kind of post-modern movement started springing up among the magick subculture of what was quickly termed “chaos magick”; this is a movement that basically rejects the old style of ritual completely (or at most, defines it as an entirely aesthetic personal choice), and have neither respect nor obedience to spiritual authority.  They are extreme personalists, who believe that each magician has to not only interpret traditional symbols in an individual way (the way the “new schoolers” do), but have to create their own entirely new, entirely personal set of symbols, or incorporate modern symbols and concepts into their magical practice.  Confusingly, many chaos magicians would also identify themselves as Thelemites and express admiration for Aleister Crowley (unsurprisingly, since many of them started as “new school” magicians, and then jumped over to the Chaos Magick current).  They just don’t believe that you need to use any of the old methods to do magick. 

These guys can be characterized for a love of creating spontaneous rituals, breaking the rules for rules-breaking’s sake, using lots of “sigil magick” where they create some new word (sometimes out of the letters of whatever concept they’re trying to invoke) or image (again, out of the general imagery of what they’re trying to invoke) and then using that as a focus for their will (by varied means, anything from masturbation (over the sigil) to mass-production (of the sigil, making it seen in a whole lot of places or by a whole lot of people)), and going out of their way to try to mingle talk about modern quantum physics, chaos mathematics, or other cutting-edge legitimate sciences with their personal occult theory. 
This is the guy, in other words, who will use lots of quasi-scientific words to try to convince you that the Uncertainty Principle or String Theory “Proves” that magick is real.  They see the “new school” guys as “old farts” and the “Old school” guys as utterly hopeless.

The general criticism that more traditional magicians have for fans of “chaos magick” is that they’re not basically doing anything, they’re just making it up as they go along; I’ve even literally heard one “new school” Thelemic magician accuse chaos magick of being “barely a step above D&D on the scale of credible occultism”.

Critics will point to the absurdity of the fact that Chaos magicians believe that symbols are only powerful due to the personal impact they have for you in your personal history and experience (rather than the more standard occult theory that symbols are powerful because of an objective connection to the collective unconscious, the kabbalistic tree of life, or the divine supersoul).  The chaos magicians, feeling that all that matters is one’s own personal whims, will argue that it makes more sense to “invoke Superman” in a magical ritual rather than Zeus, evoke the Cthulhu monsters from Lovecraft novels rather than the demons of the goetia, or will use pseudolatin words from Harry Potter rather than the Ineffable Names or the Enochian Calls. More traditional magicians will take this to mean that not only do most chaos magicians not know what they’re doing, they don’t even believe in what they’re doing, they’re just playing at being pop-culture post-modern wizards; an accusation that might be true for a significant number of chaos magicians, but then again, similar accusations of “playing at being crowley” or “playing at collecting absurd titles” can be levied at the majority of Thelemites and the Golden-dawn old-schoolers.

Like the other two above, the majority of chaos magicians are much more “theory” (or one should say “talk”, in their case, since they intentionally don’t have a coherent theory) than practice.
I think Alan Moore perhaps put it best in his incredible occult-comic Promethea; “You know, in the 20s, magicians had style; it was turbans, tuxedos, and tarts in tiaras; now its all sigils, stubble and self-abuse”.  Of course Grant Morrison, a practicing chaos magician and writer of the even-more incredible The Invisibles, responded by calling Moore’s treatment of magick in Promethea “elitist”. 
Curiously, the thing worth noting is that the really great magicians of any of these three predominant types will all end up looking very similar; its the posers that tend to look different from one another.  The hardcore guys who have developed a serious magical practice, regardless of what outer “school of thought” they belong to, will all have engaged in obsessive study of ALL kinds of sources, near-neurotic levels of daily practices, will demonstrate a notable ability to improvise and adapt their magick to the situation at hand, and will all have gone through similar experiences though perhaps via different methods.  In other words, they’ll all be batshit crazy, AND have something real going on; and so will a real tantrist, or a real shaman, or a real voodoo witch doctor or a real Taoist alchemist.  They all end up looking very similar at the high end of the “attainment” spectrum, and if that’s not a good argument in favour of the Philosophia Perennia, I don’t know what is.
Now, a note about magical orders: there aren’t really any truly “vast occult conspiracies” out there.  That’s because any order that becomes truly big, and there are precious few of these too, will inevitably end up becoming much more social and less “occult”.  That’s not to say they won’t have plenty of serious magicians in these groups, but those serious magicians will not be seeing their membership in the group as the central part of their magical work, only as a compliment or a social outlet.  The largest “occult order” in the western world is undoubtedly Freemasonry, which at the present time boasts about six million members worldwide.  That sounds like a lot but you have to remember that its spread over a shitload of countries, there’s no central “worldwide” masonic institution, and the VAST majority of its members would not define themselves as “occultists” at all, much less magicians, even though what they do in their lodges and rituals is entirely a part of the western magical tradition. 

As far as “serious” magical orders go (that is to say, orders that define themselves as “MAGICAL” Orders), they’re freaking tiny by comparison.  One of the largest of these is one of Crowley’s orders, the Ordo Templi Orientis or OTO, and its splintered into about a dozen different rival factions; the largest of these has about 3000 members worldwide, and none of the others get anywhere near that number.  The smallest “OTO” claimant group I’ve run into personally had a whopping TWO members!

The “old school” order par excellence was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which were absolutely revolutionary in their development of ritual magick in the late 19th century; the original Golden Dawn (of which Crowley was a member in his youth, and which included luminaries of multiple backgrounds, people like W.B. Yeats, A.E. Waite of the “Rider Waite Tarot” fame, Bram “Dracula” Stoker, Allan “first western Buddhist Monk” Bennett, and many, many more) broke up due to infighting around 1901; after that there have been dozens of groups claiming to be the “one true” Golden Dawn (in the same way that there are dozens of “one true” OTOs out there).   These days none of these groups are very big; and they generally take the form of mail-order correspondence-course groups that send you instructional material and give you a fancy “degree” as you pass written exams; the better ones actually have some type of headquarter where you go for initiations.  The entirety of the original Golden Dawn’s secret rituals are available in print (and online), and many “old school” magicians practice or study that ritual on their own, rather than in a group.

There are two major and a host of minor “Thelemic” groups, the aforementioned OTO being the biggest; like the Golden Dawn it works with a pseudo-masonic “Lodge” structure and offers initiations.  Its membership has been suffering a decline since around the late 1980s, however, and there are far fewer working OTO lodges than there used to be.  The quality of these groups vary immensely, from being largely social groups that engage in a lot of magical “conversation”, to individual lodges that do very serious magical work alongside the standard ritual.  The other major Thelemic group is the A.’.A.’., which Crowley founded.  It does not follow the “lodge structure”, but rather works (in theory) on a “cell” basis, where each member only knows his immediate superior in the order (the guy who’s teaching him magick) and those lower-degree members that the person themselves has brought into the order. 

This means that basically, since Crowley’s death, there has been no true central structure of the A.’.A.’., and there are shitloads of people who spontaneously claim to have membership in this group; theoretically, the “real” A.’.A.’. is anyone who has an unbroken “lineage” going back to Crowley himself (that is, he was brought into the A.’.A.’. by someone who was brought into the A.’.A.’. by someone who was brought into the A.’.A.’., by someone etc. etc. who was brought into the A.’.A.’. by Crowley); but this is in practice notoriously difficult to accurately confirm. Fortunately in both cases, just like with the Golden Dawn, the entire OTO rituals and A.’.A.’. magical writings are available in print or online if you know where to look, though the legal heirs of Crowley’s OTO try to suppress this material whenever they find it.

The “Really New School” guys tend mostly to be solitary or work in small groups, but there’s one kind-of “major” group, the Illuminates of Thanateros, who were founded by the guy who first coined the term Chaos Magick (Peter Carroll).  This group is, true to chaos magick format, pretty loosey-goosey compared to the other orders I’ve mentioned.

So magical orders tend to be kind of shite, which tends to put the damper on some of the traditional setting-concepts of occult campaigns; but is more in keeping with the far more “realistic” setting elements of isolation and infighting that I’ve been trying to emphasize as being part of an accurate portrayal of the occult scene. 

And in any case, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have “secret groups” being a significant part of an occult campaign; remember that there’s probably literally hundreds of very small “orders”, often incredibly pretentious in spite of their size, which can run the gamut from con artists to cults of personality, to a group of people who have tapped into some seriously Powerful (and Possibly Fucked Up) Heavy Shit.   While the majority of magicians actually work alone, or through small or medium-sized networks of like-minded acquaintances, there’s also thousands of “working groups” that don’t go so far as to call themselves an “order”, who are also often the groups that do some of the most serious magical group work.  The PC party can be one of these, for that matter. 


Currently Smoking: Mario Grandi Oom Paul + Argento Latakia

(originally reposted June 16th, 2013, on the old blog)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

DCC Campaign Update: Giant Weasels Ripped Their Flesh

In This Adventure, the PCs haphazardly dashed into:

-A group of prisoners of the Pythian Knight Cosplay Society, who had no choice but to join the party as retainers.

-One of those prisoners, who happened to be a purple mutant with a bag of seriously hallucinogenic mushrooms.

-A crazy series of trans-dimensional effects that seemingly wiped out half the party, all because Bob Shoggoth got high on the shrooms.

-The accidental lobotomization of one of the brand new party members, for the same reason as above.

-An emergency retreat back to the Azure Tower, where the incredulous Azure Order mages were forced to confront the possibility of a "good Shoggoth" (not to mention a reggae-loving Rasta-Shoggoth).

-The annoyed conclusion of the Order that while Bob Shoggoth is not evil, he's not really 'good' either, and is definitely still dangerous.

-A second expedition in search of the Mint Condition Pythian Power Armor Suit (with jet-pack and butt-rockets).

-The in-hindsight-unfortunate decision not to invite along the one Shoggoth who knows the exact location of the Half-Sunken Temple where the Power Armor is located.

-The decision to avoid the Humanoid Badlands (and the purple mutant territory) by cutting across the forest toward the Fur Bay.

-The tragic confirmation that two-headed grass-snakes are in fact very poisonous, ruining what could have been a potentially lucrative setup for creating a hallucinogenic-mushroom business.

-The discovery that the "Fur Bay" is not named that way because of fur-trading, nor because it is populated by furries (like the "Great Furry Plains") but because it is a deeply polluted body of mutagenic water that is nearly covered in an fur-like green algae.

-Having to cope with the fact that they live in a world where there's actually a town called "Badbreath".

-Having to further cope with the fact that this town is ruled over by a guy literally named Lord Dread, who rules from Castle Dread.

-The not-entirely-surprising revelation that Lord Dread is in fact a mustache-twirling dressed-all-in-black would-be villain with a stupid plan to united the badland humanoids under his command to take over the entire region.

-The useful but untimely discovery that hallucinogenic mushrooms are lethally toxic to goblins.

-A surprisingly friendly entente with Lord Dread.

-Moving on from Castle Dread to the town of Highbay.

-The not-entirely-surprising confirmation that Highbay is so named not because it is at some kind of position of geographical altitude, but because it is an important mercantile port for the illicit-drug trade.

-Discovering that Highbay is no peaceful dirty-hippie town; though it is full of peaceful dirty hippies, the actual people in command are all very sober, well-armed, and ruthless businessmen.

-The taking of heavy amounts of mushrooms to try to contact Bob Shoggoth, unsuccessfully, while ending up in a compromising situation with a pair of grey mutant courtesans and a blue mutant midget pretending to be an erotic halfling.

-Further explorations of similar levels of psychedelia, leading to waking up in possession of a holo-gaming device of unknown origin, a pirate hat, and a mysterious Bobblehead doll.

-A changed Elf, swearing to cut down on the drugs, and even the surprisingly wise decision not to try something called "assassin's weed".

-The shocking revelation that Bolt-O (the Conversation-Robot) has been commandeered by the city government to serve as an entertainment for the High Council.

-A bureaucratic maze in Highbay City Hall, as threatening as any dungeon; if said dungeon was non-lethal and incredibly annoying.

-The confirmation that serious amounts of cash being thrown at corrupt civil servants will cut right through the mazelike process.

-The by-now-not-surprising-at-all discovery that the "high council" are so named because they're all constantly high.

-The valuable illumination into the real power in charge of the city is the Chief City Officer of the Bureaucracy, who's never touched a drug in his life, aside from ale and rhinocerous blood.

-The tense negotiations with Chief City Officer Swanlee, which lead to Bolt-O being given a free choice as to whether he wishes to continue with the party or accept a civil service job (well-paid, with benefits) in Highbay.

-The disappointment of Bolt-O deciding he can have a life full of more interesting Conversations among the balls-tripping stoners of the High Council than he could continuing with the PCs.

-The departure from Highbay, knowing that they've lost a semi-valuable party member but gained a useful contact in local town government.

-The continued trek toward the Perverted Swamp, interrupted by a horrifying attack from vicious Giant Weasels.

-The death of two more newbie party members, Giant Weasels having ripped their flesh.

-The determination to hold fast and bunker down in the weasel plains, halfway between Highbay and the Perverted Swamp, while the elf spends 48 hours in constant and unwavering occult-theory-work in order to gain a bonus spell.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The OSR, Storygames, and Attacks on 5e D&D

If we look at expressions of contempt for the OSR, attacks on personalities in old-school, and expressions of disdain or disapproval for or attacks upon 5e D&D, we find a common pattern emerging.  Some people might mistakenly assume that the issue is with the personalities in particular, and that things like the OSR or 5e are just "collateral damage"; that attacks on me, for example, may involve insulting the OSR or 5e because I'm a fan of both, but the real point of said attacks are to get to me. I think that's wrong; in fact, it's the other way around.

It's pretty often I get known Forgist/Storygamer types trying to claim I'm "not a real game designer" because my games are "derivative" and don't use jenga tiles and tiddlywinks like their serious examinations of space marines with ennui.  There are certainly people who, say, hate me and use the OSR as just a premise to attack me.  However, there's also a general sense of contempt for old-school gaming in certain circles that has nothing to do with me or any other "personality".  It has to do with the pseudo-intellectual Forge "theory" crowd feeling pissed off that their ideas largely failed, and that now the OSR's ideas are hugely influential on things like 5e D&D.

The issue is with their resentment over having lost. There are people who never forgave regular gamers for not wholeheartedly abandoning D&D and embracing their RPGs about playing degenerate victorian university professors or holocaust victims suffering helplessly or pirates raping the corpses of cabin boys.

Many of these people became the Pseudo-activists who we see all over G+ today, the ones arguing that regular roleplaying needs to be put down for the sake of the children or something.  It's that same elitist hatred of D&D that a certain sector of the hobby always had, only now they've weaponized social causes to use these to attack those people and games they've never ever liked.
Which is why if you have an OSR RPG that mentions wenches or shows an image of a warrior woman in skimpy armor (or even in FULL armor, as the whole "Aleena the Cleric is sexist" thing proved), you're history's greatest monsters; but if you are a Storygame-designer who's got a game where you play underaged maids who lust after their adult masters while wearing transparent uniforms, you're a bold visionary and sexism is irrelevant because you have the Cool-kids seal of approval.

It proves this isn't about "causes" but about going after the games you don't like.  So likewise, attacks on individuals isn't about individuals but about ideology.

These people doing the attacking are people who not long ago were saying all of D&D is "incoherent" and an inferior game. And the OSR was the furthest away from the spirit of all their ideas, saying "no, we don't need to invent all-new theories and radically re-invent the hobby; we need to get back to the roots.  No, we don't need to trust our games to a group of self-styled elite indie game designers, we need to give the GM more power, not less".  They DESPISE us for that, and for the OSR's success.

Never mind that the one group is an RPG group, playing games that are about interpreting a character in a virtual world, while the other are storygamers, whose goal is the creation of a story (with world and character being mere backdrops to that).  That's the core abyss that stretches between one concept of what RPGs should be like and the other, but the separation in basic philosophy goes further than that, when you look at the details of just what this means in practice.

Beyond that, the storygamers believe that rules must be played as written, and that no one should be able to alter them.  The GAME DESIGNER is god. The GM is like a monopoly banker, a mere facilitator who brings the glorious ideas of the designer (whose word is law) down to the players (who are the ones who get to be in charge of the group).  The GM is in charge of almost nothing. His 'world' and characters are just a potemkin-village for the players to weave their story-making in, and he very explicitly isn't allowed to be the one who makes Story (the whole point of the storygame) because that would be bad.

The OSR believes that rules are utterly malleable, you can take stuff out, put stuff in, you can run a game using the LotFP rule book, the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, and the Adventures Dark & Deep GM guide while running an adventure made for Labyrinth Lord and using magic items from Arrows of Indra.
The GM is god. The game designer is a producer of ideas to help the GM create and run his world, and the players get to play their characters, but are not the ones in charge of the world, or the group. They are in charge of their characters, which is 50% of the point of an RPG, and the GM in charge of the virtual world where the characters operate, which is the other 50% of the point.

Both the OSR, and D&D 5e, are a forceful rejection of all the core storygaming values.  So don't expect 'consultantgate' to be the end of things.  Nothing will ever satisfy these people because what it's really about is the entire hobby having rejected their idea of 'sophistication'.  Take this as a prophecy, cheap and obvious as it may be: it is only a matter of time until the next big attack on 5e, and the efforts to undermine the game, and the entire hobby, will not stop.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Volcano + Brebbia no.7 Mix

Monday, 15 September 2014

Cracked Monday

I have to admit something: in spite of the fact that recently he and I have been lumped in together, I don't usually read Zak S.' blog. It's not anything specific on him, I don't read any other gaming blogs with regularity; I tend to be too busy with my own blog, theRPGsite, and my G+ stuff.

But it's a fine blog, particularly when he starts talking about Art History, which is clearly one of his strong suits.  Today, then, our link is to Zak's blog and an excellent article that came he out with that may be of interest to any Arrows of Indra fans: where he talks about Indian art as an inspiration for gaming.

Check it out.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

In yesterday's adventure, the PCs proceeded through the early days of 1945.  They heard about how Hawkman confronted and defeated a new villain by the name of The Monocle:

Meanwhile, the All-Stars were forced to confront the second major world threat in as many weeks; just as only earlier that same month the supernatural monster known as the Stalker sought to destroy the world, this week the superbeing from the 52nd century known as Lord Dynamo attempted to conquer Earth in the distant past of the 20th century.

Lord Dynamo was not exactly a villain; but a hero from the distant future, faced with the total annihilation of Earth's population at the hands of the hordes of the Galactic Conqueror Brainiac 7; he attempted to move all of the 12 billion people in his charge back into prehistory as a desperate last-ditch escape attempt.

However, the All-stars couldn't let that happen, not with the devastating consequences involved, and not with Dynamo and his armies trying to conquer Earth.  Particularly not when they realized a significant part of those armies consistent of revenants, dead soldiers who'd been grafted with cybernetic controls so they could continue fighting from beyond the grave:

Fortunately, there was another time-lost soul in the picture; a young hero from the 30th century who had become temporarily trapped in the 1940s and had just been recruited by the JSA:

Yes, Lightning Lad, from the Legion of Super-Heroes; in a self-referencing moment from my earlier LSH campaign (where LL had briefly been trapped in the 1940s and joined the JSA).

In any case, after discovering that Lord Dynamo (with his electric and psychic powers) was actually a distant descendent of Lightning Lad, the latter had briefly engaged in a ploy (thought up by Mister Terrific) to threaten to die in order to make Dynamo's future never exist; however, in the end a better plan was thought up by one of the PCs, where Green Lantern and Starman teamed up to create a device that shifted all the time-travellers back to their home timeline.

So it went, in another exciting adventure of the Mystery Men!


Currently Smoking:  Blatter Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Arrows of Indra: Castes

You can’t really write an even vaguely authentic Epic Indian Myth RPG based on ancient India in the age of the Mahabharata without addressing the question of Caste.  However, this is naturally a very contentious issue.  Some people have gone as far as to express a certain amount of outrage that the Caste system is considered in the game; to be fair many of these are people who have not and would never actually buy Arrows of Indra and were just looking for something to be outraged about.  But still, I think its worthwhile to talk about caste in the context of the AoI game.

First, as it explicitly states in the book, neither the author, nor the publisher nor (to my knowledge) anyone involved in Arrows of Indra actually approves of the Indian caste system (or any other kind of caste system) in real life.  In fact, I’m not afraid to say that I think the Indian caste system sucks, I’m glad that modern Indian law doesn’t recognize it but hope that Indian society evolves to the point where that becomes a true reality.  That clear? Good. Let’s move on.

Second, the caste system was (and still is!) a reality of Indian culture. It had to be addressed (of course, no doubt some of the very same people outraged that I included it would have been outraged at my ‘cultural ignorance’ or ‘historical whitewashing’ if I had not included it).  The interesting question, then, is how an AoI GM should handle it.  The mechanics for how to handle caste (which castes can play which classes, etc.) are pretty straightforward and explicit.  The setting material is pretty clear about what castes are, what they mean, and what they do.  But let’s go a bit further and clear a few points up:

a)  If you’re an AoI GM, you could just NOT USE castes if you don’t want them.  As the author of AoI, I felt it important they be included for accuracy, but there’s nothing that should stop you as a GM from getting rid of them if you don’t like the idea.  YOUR version of the Bharata Kingdoms could be casteless.

b) If you don’t like the attribute modifiers or the class limits based on caste, you could just get rid of those instead, and keep caste as a more vague general concept (though you’d have to seriously rework some elements of the setting to explain how a Sudra could be a Priest, etc).  Its your world, do with it what you will!

c)  I already explicitly stated this in the book, but it bears repeating: if you are already familiar with the modern Indian caste system, do keep in mind that the caste system in the Bharata kingdoms (and indeed in historical India in this early period) was a bit difference in terms of stratification.  That is to say, “caste” was a much more malleable concept than it is even to this day in India, where you are born and die in a single caste.  In the Bharata kingdoms (and in many periods of real Indian history) caste was seen as something that usually stayed fixed throughout most people’s lifetimes but that was to a certain extent changeable: you could get a demotion in caste for certain acts, and (albeit harder) you could also theoretically get “promoted” to a higher caste.
As a GM, there’s nothing to say you couldn’t extend this a further step, making caste something even more malleable than the setting default, allowing for example that the priesthood or virakshatriyas “promote” spiritually worthy candidates by virtue of augury or signs of divine favor.

d) Finally, you’ll note how Arrows of Indra is chock-full of random tables for absolutely EVERYTHING.  As I already said above, if you’re an AoI GM and at any time don’t actually want to use the random table, you have the full authority not to use it!  This includes the random table for caste in character generation.  If you want to, you could just have all the PCs play the same caste, or you could pick the caste for PCs based on the classes they wanted to play, or you could let them pick their own castes. As ought to be the Sacred Rule of OSR games, “the Rules are there to serve the GM, not the GM to serve the rules”.  If you don’t have a lot of experience with OSR games or that style of play, try to keep this in mind! Don’t get stuck thinking that because I, a guy who doesn’t actually know you or your group, wrote something down in the book that it somehow means that I know better than you about what’s best for your group to have fun.

I hope these clarifications provide some help for anyone who was seriously wondering about caste in Arrows of Indra.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

(originally posted June 14th, 2013, on the old blog)

Friday, 12 September 2014

Magic is Hard to Write About, Plus: Standard Pundit Patronage Plea

Hey all, only a short note today as I'm very busy working on the chapter on "Spells and Miracles" for Albion.

I don't know what it is, or why it is, but it's definitely ironic that one of the things I (of all people) always seem to have challenge writing about when I'm doing RPG-designing is the "magic" section.  It was one of the toughest parts of writing Arrows of Indra (and FtA!, and even the sorcery-powers in Lords of Olympus was tough); and here in Albion all I'm doing is a chapter where I suggest what kind of modifications should be done to a standard OSR-ruleset to fit the flavor of Albion as a setting (plus some stuff on magic items, and summoning), and even this comparatively simple task has been one of the slower-moving sections of writing the damn book!

Anyways, while I'm talking about my woes and lamentations, let me spare a minute to make the standard monthly reminder: if you like this blog, appreciate the articles, like the detailed game reviews, the series on 'real magick in rpgs', the occasional posts about Uruguay, the various other rants, the game reports for DCC and my other games, etc., or likewise if you like my advocacy and defense of regular roleplaying and regular gamers, or even if you only love to be outraged by my antics, then please consider clicking on that Paypal button to your right and giving this blog some of your patronage!
Your support will only encourage me.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Horn + Gawith's Navy Flake